From a distance, the eight paintings in Zachary Keeting’s recent show looked like collages; up close, they revealed themselves to be layered acrylics. To make them, Keeting, a New Haven-based artist, lays his paint on wet then manipulates it—squeegeeing, spilling it on and brushing it over. Torn newsprint is placed upon selected areas, sometimes when they are wet, sometimes dry. More paint and newsprint follow. Each piece of paper is eventually peeled off, leaving the different layers of acrylic visible. The collision of pulled, smeared and dripped colors bleeding at the edges is structured around a logic of accumulation. The result is a sort of urban cacophony, recalling, for example, Hollis Frampton’s 1970 film Zorns Lemma, with its grainy montage of New York City signs arranged alphabetically.
The paintings, all from 2013, mostly measure a yard or two per side, with the notable exception of two larger diptychs, each about 9 feet by 4 feet, one tall and the other wide. The horizontal one, May (2), 2013, was the strongest painting in the show, with a preponderance of purples, pinks and reds. Here the acrylic is alternately thick and watered down, but it always broadcasts its plastic, rubbery nature. Big loopy blue and magenta brushstrokes on the upper left are broken up by flat pinks, while thin rivers of white dribbled along the top right corner muddy the liquid stretch below. The central shape, a Richteresque smearing of cool berry-red, splotched and pulled through a dirty white ground, seems to hover behind the rest of the piece. Like Keeting’s other paintings, May (2) does not present a single, iconic image; rather, the allover busyness of the composition keeps the eye scanning around, observing each section for a spell before moving on.
In a statement accompanying the show, Keeting writes, “The scenes are mash-ups of orchestrated mayhem.” While that characterization rings true, his use of the term “mash-up” is significant. Keeting cocreated the studio-visit blog Gorky’s Granddaughter in 2010, and his immersion in the process of editing the videos of interviews with more than 200 artists informs his own work. (Full disclosure: I’m one of the interviewees.) Fifty years ago Keeting might have been seen as exhibiting a suspicious lack of anxiety about the innumerable sources he quotes in his paintings. They seem permitted, and indeed welcome, in the form of a jumble of tropes alluding to artists in the video series, from swooping curves (Bill Jensen) to shapes built of negative space (Carrie Moyer). Keeting’s canvases are either colorful or monochromatic—the latter painted, he says, after he gave up alcohol.
Like May (2), Keeting’s titles all consist of a month followed by a parenthetical number, underscoring the works as events in time. This was Keeting’s first solo show, and it seemed emblematic of a moment in which the medium of painting is wrapped up with online discussions. In fact, looking at these paintings is not unlike the experience of watching the Gorky’s Granddaughter videos, in which we see snippets of many artists’ paintings as they speak about their work. The aggregation is the point.